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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: College Roommates
October 22, 2009 - 8:20am

A lot can be said about the ‘challenges’ of Facebook, but one of the great things about social media is that it puts you back in touch with old, college friends. (By ‘old’ I mean friends who attended college more than 20 years ago.) In a weird coincidence, I had two of my former undergraduate roommates come through Chicago during the past week.

While visiting with these talented women — Stacie, who works for Teach for America and Esther, a lawyer considering a run for Congress -- I was overwhelmed by the intensity and the importance of the relationships that I formed at the vulnerable age of eighteen, particularly as a young woman. Now the three of us have daughters between the ages of eleven and fourteen. I already see how important it is for my daughter to develop a network of girlfriends.

Stacie and I met on the first day of college, not long after our parents left us in the only all-female dorm on campus. She came from Texas. I came from Florida. We were both a bit dismayed that our families weren’t progressive enough to allow us to stay in a co-ed dorm, and we soon found ourselves going out to a bar down the street from the dorm and drinking beer with baseball players from the Durham Bulls (The drinking age was 18 then). Our first evening together involved gracefully removing ourselves from a situation that we weren’t quite ready to handle.

I also remember on that first day meeting my new roommate Lois, who was sitting on the bed in our dorm room with her parents, waiting for me to arrive. This was before the days of getting much advance notice or contact with your new ‘roomie,’ and Lois’s parents waited, I believe, to make sure that my parents and I were comfortable with her family’s racial differences from the largely white student body.

Lois and I remained friends throughout college, even as we recognized the social differences drawn by my drinking beer and not sleeping enough. We managed to live happily together that first year and still find interests that we shared. After starting out as pre-med and pre-law students, Lois and I respectively abandoned these professions, fell in love with literature while studying with Stanley Fish, Frank Lentricchia and Reynolds Price, and completed BAs, MAs and Phds in English.

Throughout my undergraduate years I lived with a variety of different women with whom I became close friends. I met Esther sophomore year, and she shared with us her Cuban family’s immigration story — a father who got off a boat in New York City and worked his way through med school, and a mother who never quite learned English.

Many of us shared a house together our senior year, but, more importantly, we shared our life crises and successes together after we graduated — academic tenure, bar exams, heartbreaks, and, eventually, marriages, divorces, promotions, and pregnancies. Whether we knew it or not, our support for each other taught us something about community, and, more importantly, something about leadership.

Now we find ourselves in our forties moving at a pace that is not quite slowing down, but is starting to settle a bit. Our children are at different ages — from six to sixteen. Some of us have too many cars, mortgages or child care assistants, and others can’t afford (or don’t want) cars, mortgages and child care assistants, but we have all started to recognize the virtue (and the exhaustion) of mid-life. We have continued to push towards leadership positions in our careers, even if we haven’t managed to stay consistently in touch during the past decades. Now we can support each other in different ways as we run for Congress or need professional contacts at universities.

As I ended both visits last week, my ‘old’ friends and I vowed not to let so much time pass between visits. ‘Maybe a girls-only weekend in Florida soon?’ we proposed.

We’ll have to rest up for it…


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